Shang-Jin Wei is the chief economist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). He was most recently the N.T. Wang Chair and director of the Chazen Institute of International Business at Columbia University from 2007 to 2014. Wei has held prominent positions at the National Bureau of Economic Research, International Monetary Fund, Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution, World Bank, and Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Wei received his PhD in economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He was born in China and is a U.S. national.
Why is he in the news?
Wei took up his ADB post in August 2014 and began stirring debate within a month. He called the notion of a middle-income trap, in which middle-income countries are unable to advance to high-income status, “largely a myth.” This view sharply contradicts statements by ADB president Takehiko Nakao, as well as a large body of earlier research from the ADB and other development institutions.
Wei also oversaw publication of a new report, “Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2014,” which argues that if the poverty line were raised from $1.25 to $1.50 per day, the number of poor in Asia (by a 2010 measure) would rise to 1.75 billion from 733 million. He has said that countries should “subsidize people not subsidize products.” This means abandoning price-distorting subsidies like those on fuel and strengthening social safety net programs like targeted cash transfers and food stamps.
What can we expect from him?
As chief economist, Wei will serve as the ADB’s spokesperson on economic issues and head its Economic and Research Department. He will be critical in leading the organization’s policy research and coordination with the international community at a time when China’s proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and slowing regional growth are creating an array of new challenges for the ADB. Look for Wei to place greater emphasis on refining the ADB’s role in poverty reduction, exploring whether to empower governments to help their people or empower people to help themselves.